Monday

30th Jan 2023

EU awaits confirmation of Russia gas restart

Russia and Ukraine have said EU gas supplies started flowing at 8:30 am Brussels time on Tuesday (20 January). The gas could take days to reach the EU border, but solidarity measures mean EU states could survive for "weeks" in any case.

EU pipeline monitors stationed in Russia and Ukraine have not yet confirmed the restart, which comes after Russian supplier Gazprom and Ukrainian transit firm Naftogaz on Monday signed a 10-year contract on gas prices for Ukraine.

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  • Weather vane: temperatures around Europe are set to stay mild as the EU waits for gas (Photo: Wikipedia)

The EU team was sent in last week to increase transparency because previous announcements that the gas was back on turned out to be "false dawns," amid accusations of blackmail and theft.

Russia and Ukraine have already asked the 22-man EU mission to start packing its bags.

Estimates for how long the gas will take to reach the EU as it snakes through Ukraine's 22,000 km-long pipeline transit system - the largest in the world - vary from 36 hours to several days.

The gas flow stopped 13 days ago causing severe economic damage in eastern Europe, with Slovakia and Bulgaria alone saying it has cost them €350 million a day.

EU states could continue to live without Russian gas for "several weeks" if the weather stays mild, EU member state energy ministry officials said after a meeting of the Gas Co-ordination Group in Brussels on Monday, however.

"The countries concerned, besides Bulgaria, would be able to manage the current situation for several weeks if not throughout the winter," the group concluded.

The EU in the past two weeks triggered solidarity measures to help the worst-hit countries. The passing of a severe cold snap also helped, with temperatures from Berlin to Sofia forecast to stay above freezing this week.

Norway and the Netherlands have supplied extra gas to Germany, which in turn passed volumes through the Czech Republic to Slovakia. Germany also pumped stocks through Austria to Hungary and Slovenia. Increased shipments from Algeria through Italy helped Slovenia. And Bulgaria is to receive supplies from Greece.

"Industry is using creative solutions," European Commission spokesman Ferran Tarradellas Espuny said. "The fact that there is an internal market for energy, despite its limitations, helps."

Winter of discontent

The new Gazprom-Naftogaz contract has already come under fire from Ukraine President Viktor Yushchenko, as the gas dispute continues to send political waves through Europe despite its apparent resolution.

The president's advisor, Bohdan Sokolovsky, said on Monday that Mr Yushchenko's political rival, Ukraine Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, damaged national interest by agreeing to pay too much for Russian gas and charging too little in transit fees.

Recriminations are also starting inside the EU.

Polish President Lech Kaczynski on Monday said Europe should have helped Kiev in what many post-Communist EU members see as Russia's attempt to aggravate instability inside post-revolutionary Ukraine.

"[The crisis] proved once more that a country that gets drawn into a dispute with Russia cannot count on any effective help," Mr Kaczynski said according to PAP, in an allusion to limited EU assistance for Georgia during its 2008 war with Russia.

The EU establishment continues to see Russia as a privileged partner compared to Ukraine.

"It is important to construct a solid trustful relationship between the European Union and Russia," EU foreign relations chief Javier Solana told EUobserver in Barcelona on Saturday. "We are neighbours - very important neighbours - we share many strategic interests."

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